ESJ Insight: On Health Disinformation with Katarína Klingová

  • European Security Journal
  • 24.4.2021 02:15

ESJ Insight brings you an insider’s perspective on current security issues. Join us to discover more about the threats and challenges facing Europe today and tomorrow.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia were once considered as having some of the best responses in Europe to the Coronavirus, but this early success in 2020 has since been overshadowed by the failures of 2021. Both countries have held terrible positions as having the most infections and death per capita in the world. To understand what happened, how social media contributed to the problem, and why people still do not believe that vaccines are safe, we are joined by the incredibly knowledgeable Katarína Klingová.

Ms. Kligová is a senior research fellow at the GLOBSEC Policy Institute in Bratislava, and an expert on information campaigns in Central Europe.

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Timeline of Events

August 11th 2020 : Putin announces that Russia is the first country in the world to produce a Coronavirus vaccine. The Sputnik V is criticized internationally for not starting stage 3 trials before it is declared safe. 

September 7th 2020 : Stage three trials of the vaccine started with 40,000 volunteers. 

December 5th 2020: Population wide use starts in Russia. 

December 21st 2020: Belarus becomes the first country to register the vaccine for use.  

January 21st 2021: Hungary becomes the first EU country to register the vaccine for use. 

February 2021: The Lancet journal publishes a report on the Sputnik Vaccine concluding it is 91.6% effective at preventing infection and is safe for use.  

The British peer reviewed study shows the most conclusive proof that the vaccine is on par with its international competition in terms of effectiveness, cost, and possible side effects. 

February 10th 2021: EMA the European Medical Agency puts out a rare statement saying they have received no application for approval for the Sputnik V vaccine.

The statement was put out to counter criticism and questions of when the approval process would be complete. The EMA announcement went against the public statements from the Sputnik manufacturers that the vaccine was submitted for approval in January. 

The Russian Direct Investment Fund, the backers of the vaccine had been vocally critical of European bureaucracy being the reason why the vaccine was not already approved in Europe. 

March 1st 2021: Slovakia signs controversial deal to purchase 2 million doses. Deal is announced when a plane containing the first doses arrives in the country.

The deal which was completed by Prime Minister Igor Matovic was kept secret not only from the public but also from his own government. When the planes arrived with the first vaccines it caused outrage within the Slovakian government, as the purchase of Sputnik had been vetoed just a month earlier

The Health Minister Marek Krajčí announced that the vaccine would not be given until Slovakian regulators had a chance to access and approve it. 

March 4th 2021: EMA starts rolling review evaluation of the Sputnik V vaccine despite still not having a complete application. 

The EMA stated the rolling review process that would allow them to review all data as it became available to them. This was done as a way to speed up the process once a full application for market authorization would be submitted. 

There have been questions on how EMA will verify the vaccine, what data they will have access to and what and how transparent Russia will be willing to be. MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubadel raised these questions in an open letter to Ursula Von der Leyen, questioning if the EMA can approve a vaccine for use in the EU based only on data provided by Russia. 

Crucially she questions: “Could the clinical trials conducted in Russia be used for authorisation in the EU and how would the Commission ensure that these were carried out according to EU standards?” This has been raised by others based on the fact that many of the volunteers for stage three were military personnel and as such are more young and fit then the general population. Cramon-Taubadel additionally questions whether EU regulators have access to the manufacturing sites. 

April 7th 2021: Czech Health Minister is removed for not supporting purchase of Sputnik V.

Jan Blatný the Czech Health Minister loses his position for not supporting the use of the vaccine until it has been approved by EMA. His position was counter to that of President Zeman who has repeatedly attempted to bring the vaccine to the Czech Republic.

April 8th 2021: Slovakia announces they are unable to verify the vaccine due to missing paperwork and differences in the vaccines they received. 

The Slovakian State Institute for Drug Control did not approve nor reject the vaccine for use in the country, instead they made a statement that they were unable to reach any decision based on the information and vaccines they were given. 

Despite repeated requests, the regulator stated that it was never given 80% of the necessary documentation. The Institute stated that it had also found differences between the vaccines that had been shipped to Slovakia and the ones that were reviewed by the Lancet, and that their vaccines also did not match the ones being reviewed by EMA. 

April 8th 2021: Russian Direct Investment Fund asks for the Slovakian vaccines to be returned 

The announcement made on the Sputnik V twitter states that a letter had been sent to Slovakia on the 6th, asking for their return based on contract violation. 


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